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Back at home: Bo Nix turns in another strong outing at Jordan-Hare Stadium

Bo Nix has endured a fair share of criticism this year.

Most of it was warranted: eleventh-ranked Auburn’s freshman quarterback threw for just 100 yards against Texas A&M, threw three interceptions against No. 6 Florida and never got into a rhythm against No. 1 LSU. But those performances were all on the road.

The Tigers returned to the Plains Saturday, and Nix returned to playing strong in front of Auburn’s home crowd.

“I felt like I was in a great rhythm,” Nix said. “We called some short passes and low-intermediate that I could feel comfortable with, and they were open. It was just playing catch with my guys. They did the rest.”

Nix did not light up the scoreboard: His only touchdown in Auburn’s 20-14 win came via a quarterback keeper on a read option from the one-yard line. But on a night in which the Tigers (7-2, 4-2 SEC) played much more pass-heavy than normal, Nix looked right at home, save for a near-interception when he tried to force the ball into triple coverage to Will Hastings.

Nix threw for 340 yards, his second 300-yard outing of the season. His completions (30) and attempts (44) set Auburn records vs. Ole Miss, and his 340 passing yards are the third-most all-time against Ole Miss. The 30 completions were two more than his father, Patrick Nix, recorded against Ole Miss in 1995.

According to Auburn’s postgame notes, Nix’s 78-yard completion to running back Harold Joiner in the second quarter was Auburn’s longest pass play of the season and ties for the 13th longest pass play in Auburn records. It’s the longest Auburn completion since 2013 (Sammie Coates from Nick Marshall vs. Arkansas, 88 yards).

And it’s not like Nix was throwing short, dink-and-dunk passes: His average yards per completion eclipsed 11 yards.

These are all stats that Auburn fans should feel good about, even if the final score was much closer than it should have been and even if the Tigers never should’ve let the game stay that close.

“He protected the football, that’s the number one thing,” Tigers coach Gus Malzahn said. “We were close on a couple that could have been more. Like I said, it’s nice to have an off week so we can clean some things up, but I thought he played well.”

The Tigers’ bye week is arguably their most important.

The Tigers close out the year with home games against No. 8 Georgia and No. 2 Alabama, with a game against Samford sandwiched in between. Both teams boast stout defenses: the Bulldogs held Florida to 17 points on Saturday and will likely travel to Jordan-Hare Stadium as a one-loss team, pending they avoid a South Carolina-level disaster against Missouri.

Alabama ranks 19th nationally in total defense and leads the country in turnover margin (plus-13). The Crimson Tide have forced 18 turnovers in 2019.

Clearly, Ole Miss’ defense is not on the level of Georgia and Alabama, but Nix’s outing Saturday was one that the freshman needed with this tough final stretch of games looming. The Tigers must do a better job of finishing drives against their two rivals, as the 20 points they scored against the Rebels likely won’t spell victory in either of those games. Nix having to throw the ball 44 times probably isn’t a recipe for success either.

The good news for Auburn is that it won’t play away from Jordan-Hare Stadium until the bowl game. Home is where Nix has played his best this season, and it’ll take more of his best if the Tigers are to snatch more than one win from these final three games.

“I think Bo played pretty great,” Tigers receiver Anthony Schwartz said. “We have confidence in our quarterback, and he has confidence in us. We tell him to throw it, and we’ll do the rest.”

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Joshua Mixon is a reporter for the Ledger-Enquirer. He covers sports (Auburn and preps) and local news, and is a member of the Football Writers Association of America. He previously covered Georgia athletics for the Telegraph. You can follow him on Twitter @JoshDMixon.